Manmohan Singh’s absence disappoints Commonwealth backers

May 15th, 2008 - 7:51 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, May 15 (IANS) The likely absence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from a planned Commonwealth summit to discuss the reform of international institutions has disappointed supporters who want ever-more Indian participation in the affairs of the group. Although known to be a strong supporter of the Commonwealth, Manmohan Singh is not attending the June 9-10 summit due to a packed domestic agenda.

The summit will bring together a dozen Commonwealth heads of government to discuss how to reform the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international institutions - a task that has the priority attention of both India and Britain.

“The Indians are taking much more interest in the Commonwealth and Manmohan Singh is personally very keen, and appears to have pushed it further up the foreign policy agenda,” said a veteran Commonwealth observer in London.

The summit will be new Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma’s first major initiative - it seeks to draw 12 leaders from all five continents, representing states that are both large and small, rich and poor.

“This is a rare and hugely significant gathering of Commonwealth leaders,” said Sharma, who was India’s high commissioner to Britain before taking up the new job.

“Some of today’s key international institutions, established more than half a century ago, are not aligned to the way that the world has changed,” he added.

Ironically, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown - among the strongest Commonwealth backers of such reform - is also tied down with pressing political problems at home.

Before becoming prime minister last July, Brown attended more Commonwealth finance ministerial meetings than any other British finance minister.

But faced with mounting domestic opposition over his government’s handling of economic issues, he has recently back-pedalled on international affairs, although he has mentioned the need for reform of institutions in the light of the current global financial downturn.

The summit will focus on practical steps that the Commonwealth’s 53 member-states can take to achieve the reform and coherence of global institutions. Its three-part focus will be on the international financial institutions, global environmental governance, and the UN system.

“There is a need for change, and that change must reflect the full global spectrum of interests and needs. International institutions must support an inclusive and comprehensive globalisation, which benefits the entire global community,” Sharma said.

The meeting is billed as the first step in implementing a November 2007 decision by Commonwealth leaders to establish a small representative group to undertake lobbying and advocacy for the reform of international institutions.

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